Horns247 staff predictions: Texas vs. West Virginia

As Texas prepares to face West Virginia 2-2, the Horns247 staff delivers their final predictions leading up to Saturday’s game between the Longhorns and Mountaineers.

CHIP BROWN – SEASON RECORD: 3-1

This is a critical week for the Longhorns to establish an identity on both sides of the ball, because West Virginia might be the easiest game left on Texas’ schedule.

The defense needs to get back to swarming the football after getting away from that mentality in the second half against Texas Tech.

The Longhorns need to generate pressure on the WVU quarterback JT Daniels — either by twisting and stunting or by bringing an extra man, because if Daniels has time to execute the quick-passing game and shallow crossing routes Texas Tech used last week, it could be a long night on Saturday.

No matter who is at quarterback for Texas, the running game has to become more consistent. (Think back to last year’s game against TCU — and even to the second half against UTSA.) And it won’t be easy against WVU, which has the third-best run defense in the Big 12 (giving up 98.3 yards per game and 3.2 yards per carry).

Texas 31, West Virginia 24

JEFF HOWE – SEASON RECORD: 3-1

Since West Virginia’s first season as a member of the Big 12 in 2012, Texas has split 10 meetings with the Mountaineers and six of those 10 games have been decided by eight points or less, including the 31-23 loss the Longhorns suffered in Morgantown last time. season. Neal Brown’s first win over Texas on his third try eliminated Steve Sarkisian’s Longhorns from bowl eligibility in his first season on the job and in order for the 2022 campaign to end with Texas competing beyond the regular-season finale against Baylor, Saturday’s game is as much of a must-win situation as a fifth game of the season could possibly be for the Longhorns.

West Virginia enters the game with one of the best run defenses in the country (No. 25 nationally by allowing 99.2 yards per game and 3.17 yards per attempt), but this game feels like the perfect opportunity to truly unleash. Bijan Robinson. Although arguably the best offensive player in the country doesn’t need a chip on his shoulder to impact a game, Robinson’s fumble on the first play of overtime in last week’s road loss to Texas Tech should have him amped up and ready to get himself and the Texas offense on the right track.

Getting Robinson involved beyond handing it to him in the backfield leads to what Sarkisian’s offense needs to show coming off of the loss to the Red Raiders, and that’s that the characteristics found in the brilliant opening scripts continue to be prevalent throughout the game. Robinson caught one pass last week — a 22-yard reception where he lined up in the slot in an empty formation, ran a crisp route and made a strong catch. The offensive line isn’t to the point yet where the Longhorns can count on the ability to line up and consistently move people off the ball, thus creating confusion at the mesh point (like what finally happened when Robinson broke free for a 40- yard touchdown in last week’s third quarter), throwing to a man going in motion, using multi-back sets, throwing the ball on early downs to open up the run and the other cheat codes in Sarkisian’s offense need to be used frequently from start to finish to keep the offense from bogging down while creating opportunities for Robinson and Co. to get favorable matchups.

The plan for Pete Kwiatkowski and the defense should be simple. Get after JT Daniels. According to Pro Football Focus, when Daniels hasn’t been blitzed this season he’s completing 68.1 percent of his passes for 726 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions with an NFL passer rating of 114.1. On the 32.9 percent of his dropbacks where he’s been blitzed, his completion percentage drops down to 57.1, he’s only thrown one touchdown against two interceptions and his NFL passer rating plummets to 60.6.

Getting pressure on the quarterback in the Texas Tech game was not the issue. It was the inability to get home and cause confusion for Donovan Smith, which didn’t happen near enough with the Longhorns blitzing Smith only 11 times on 61 dropbacks in what turned out to be the cleanest game of the season to this point for the Red Raider quarterback.

If the offense uses every available tool Sarkisian has built into the offense, if the defense forces the issue with the Daniels and makes him make mistakes as opposed to waiting for things to go south and if Texas can take the ball away from an offense that’s turned it over five times in four games, the Longhorns should win somewhat comfortably. Similar to last week, however, if the plans on offense and defense remain the same and the sloppiness trends go in the other direction, the Longhorns are probably going to be in a place they don’t want to be considering they’ve only two of their nine games under Sarkisian that have been decided by eight points or less.

For now, I’ll give the staff the benefit of the doubt that they can learn from what happened in Lubbock and be better going forward.

Texas 35, West Virginia 24

TAYLOR ESTES – SEASON RECORD: 3-1

Texas sitting at 2-2 with some of the toughest games left on the schedule is not an ideal situation for a team that failed to make a bowl game last season. What’s kind of crazy to think about, and something many would not have expected at the beginning of the season, is the Longhorns’ game against West Virginia might be the “easiest” remaining game on the schedule. And the Mountaineers are far from an “easy” win.

That makes it even more crucial for the Longhorns to snap out of any funk remaining from the loss at Texas Tech and get their minds right for what’s to come. This week needs to be a ‘come to Jesus’ type of moment for the Longhorns as they determine if they’re going to be the team that took the field in the first three games of the season or the team that will prove doubters — who claim Texas is far from being any sort of legit contender in the Big 12 title race – right.

The Texas defense needs to get back to playing how it did prior to the Texas Tech game, and needs to bring a lot of pressure on JT Daniels to avoid this WVU offense from getting any sort of momentum going early in the game. Daniels is good enough to beat you with his arm and the Mountaineers have a solid running back in CJ Donaldson, who is averaging 7.3 yards per carry and 95 rushing yards per game. Regardless of who starts at quarterback, the Texas offense needs to step up and do whatever it can to try to establish a running attack against West Virginia — which may not be easy considering the Mountaineers’ run defense has been pretty stout all season — and receivers need to make more plays. There have been too many instances where catchable balls have fallen incomplete, especially by Xavier Worthy. The effort has not been there, and not sure why that is happening, but it needs to stop sooner rather than later.

I’m going to give the Longhorns the advantage in this game solely for the fact that they have played well at home this season. But if they don’t take this West Virginia team seriously, Texas will enter the Oklahoma game with a losing record.

Texas 34, West Virginia 31

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MIKE ROACH – SEASON RECORD: 3-1

Texas opened as a 9.5-point favorite in a game that could dictate where the season goes at a critical 2-2 juncture. West Virginia enters with an explosive offense balanced in running and passing. Former five-star prospect JT Daniels has the ability to burn defenders down the field and the Mountaineers have three receivers capable of being big play threats. CJ Donaldson is averaging 7.3 yards per carry and has six touchdowns on the season. The Texas defense will need to bounce back from a week where they couldn’t get off the field on the money downs after doing pretty well in the first part of the season. The Longhorns can’t afford a loss on Saturday, and I think they will bounce back.

Texas 38, West Virginia 30

HUDSON STANDISH — SEASON RECORD: 3-1

Over the offseason I’ve mentioned multiple times that I’m higher than most on the West Virginia Mountaineers, but after an early season loss at home in overtime to Kansas I started to walk back my take as sharks seemingly began to circle Neal Brown in Morgantown. However, two games later the Jayhawks looked to be one of college football’s surprise darlings with a 4-0 record and WVU rebounded with drubbings of FCS Towson and a severely underwhelming Virginia Tech squad.

This game is pretty simple on the surface level for me, West Virginia’s defense has been poor all season and ranks outside the top 100 in defensive pass success rate, Expected Points Added per pass, and 3rd and 4th down success rate according to Parker Fleming’s data. At home Texas has the weapons and scheme to outclass the Eers with even just competent play, and my assumption that Hudson Card will get his third straight start.

What makes this game tricky is how the Texas defense that has been inconsistent across 12 quarters of competitive football shows up against a WVU offense that can hurt them over the middle of the field in the passing game and in the power run game with Lil’Jordan Humphrey-esque true freshman running back DeCarlo “CJ” Donaldson. If the disjointed defense that showed up in Lubbock makes an appearance on Saturday night expect to see Bryce Ford-Wheaton and Kaden Prather flexing after first downs and touchdowns all night long.

A bounce-back defensive effort will lead to the Horns covering the -9.5 while more of last week’s defensive gameplan likely leads to an old-fashioned Big 12 shootout where anything could happen.

Texas 52, West Virginia 35

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